Setting Up Your Space
Shaping Racks and Glassing Stands
It is possible to shape a surfboard on a pair of saw horses in a pinch. However, your results will be better and you'll have an easier time if you take the time to build some functional shaping and glassing racks. Material costs are low, and decent racks will greatly improve your chances of getting good results.
Greenlight has developed simple, free plans for both shaping racks and glassing stands that allow you to make functional, simple racks with 2x4s, basic fasteners, plastic buckets, sand or Quickcrete, and masking tape. We understand that most of you don’t have a permanent shaping space, so our racks are designed to be portable and move into storage when not in use. We strongly suggest you print out our free shaping rack and glassing stand plans and build your own. Feel free to improvise on these designs if you think you can do a better job, just make sure you cover the basic requirements for both type of racks:
The key points to remember for building shaping racks:
1. Stability 2. Height 3. Padding 4. Width 5. Rail Saddle
For stability, you need to make sure the racks do not wobble or tip over while you are working the blank. If your floor is not perfectly flat, just make sure you have the ability to shim or adjust the feet of the racks to stabilize them.
The perfect height for shaping racks depends on the shaper’s height. As you see in Greenlight’s shaping rack plans, typical height to the top of the rack ranges from 36”-40”, or about waist-high.
Padding is also critical to the shaping rack, both to protect the board, and to keep it from slipping on the rack while you shape. Greenlight offers inexpensive, pre-cut shaping rack padding to eliminate the guesswork/sourcing. It is important to tape the padding onto your racks with clean masking tape. Use the minimal amount of masking tape to keep the foam on, and try to avoid wrinkles in the tape. This is because you want as much exposed foam as possible for “traction”, and wrinkles in the tape can leave dents in your foam blank when you press the blank down hard while shaping.
The width of the top of your rack is also important for stability of the blank as you are shaping. The “wings” on the top of the rack should be about 12” across, from end to end. This provides a nice stable platform for the blank to rest on, but not so wide that you are bumping into the rack as you move around it.
All shaping racks also have a “saddle” in the center that allows you to put the blank at an angle into the rack to shape the rails. This “saddle” should be 4”-6” wide and 6”-8” deep and fully padded to allow the blank to sit comfortably and safely in the saddle.
The key points in good glassing stands include:
1. Stability 2. Height 3. Width 4. Level
Just like shaping racks, your glassing stands need to be wobble-free and stable as you’re glassing a board. Concrete or sand-filled buckets acting as bases for the stands accomplish this task. If you go the concrete route, use the quick-drying mix that is used for securing posts in the ground.
Glassing stands are typically higher than shaping racks, because when you are glassing, you are tucking laps on the underside of the board, and it is more comfortable to have the board higher to see and work on the laps. Most glassing stands are about 40” high.
For the same reason, the top contact points of glassing stands must be narrower than shaping stands. We recommend that the contact points be no more than 10” from end-to-end, because you do not want these points to get in the way when you are folding the wet laps around the bottom side of the blank. These narrower racks reduce stability of the blank, so you need to be a bit more careful that the blank is centered properly on the stands to keep it stable while glassing.
Finally, you want to do your best to make sure that the blank is as level as possible when resting on top of the glassing stands, especially from side to side. Since resin is applied in liquid form, it will tend to flow down any significant inclines on your blank before it cures. You can adjust the level of the racks by using 1.5” wide masking tape and rolling it around and around each of the four contact points on the glassing stands. Place the blank on the stand and put a level on top to make sure the blank is flat from side to side. Adjust the level by simply rolling more masking tape around the contact point that needs increased height.
In a perfect world, you would have access to a real shaping and glassing room (along with all of the tools and a private tutor telling you everything you need to do along the way). We are going to make the assumption that you do not have such luck, and you will be shaping in a temporary space such as a garage or basement. You can also shape outside in the backyard if you wish.
You can make great boards in your garage or basement; the following things help make the process easier with better results. They are not mandatory:
1. Lighting (Great to have but not essential until you start making money shaping for your friends)
2. Adequate Space
3. Dust Protection
4. Tool Space
Experienced shapers use what is called “side lighting,” which are fluorescent tube lights running on each side of the board lengthwise, parallel to the board at a few inches above the height of the board. These side lights have been proven to cast helpful shadows along the rail of the board, making it easy to see imperfections or high/low spots that need to be worked on.
It is possible to make side-lighting without having to invest in a permanent shaping room. You can buy 8-foot fluorescent tube light fixtures and hang them on temporary supports. We suggest you do a web- search (particularly on swaylocks.com) and you will find some ingenious/affordable methods of creating temporary side lights.
If you don’t want to spend the time/money on side lights, the next best thing is to get a hand-held fluorescent work light. You can carry this light and shine it around the rails of the board (with the rest of the room lights off) to identify what areas of the board need additional work.
To shape and glass a board, you need to figure at least 2 feet of open space around the circumference of the blank you are shaping. So for a six foot blank, try to have a space at least 10 feet long and 6 feet wide. The space also needs to have electrical outlets nearby, and should be reasonably flat, so that your racks can stand stable and level.
Professional shaping rooms typically have all the walls painted a dark color (royal blue) which contrasts well with white surfboard blanks. If you don’t have a dedicated room, you can hang blue tarps from the ceiling to create this contrast, and just as importantly, help contain the dust that you will make.
You can shape surfboards and sand glass-jobs in cold weather (a garage). Epoxy resin will take longer to cure in colder temperatures but who's in a rush anyway? Epoxy doesn’t smell bad or emit meaningful toxic vapors, so we recommend you glass your board inside during cold weather if you don’t have a temperature controlled glassing room. If you put a plastic tarp below your glassing stands, your floors will be protected and glassing inside is a low-impact exercise. It is not recommended to glass inside if you are using polyester resin. Your house will never smell the same again. If you must glass with polyester resin in cold temperatures, we recommend you use UV-Cure resin as it will cure when exposed to sunlight regardless of outside temperature.
You are going to make a little mess when you are shaping a surfboard. Dust and foam will be flying when you are planing and sanding your blank. If you are shaping in a garage or basement with other stuff in the immediate vicinity, you should cover all of these things with tarps, or better yet, hang four tarps from the ceiling to create a temporary shaping room that contains all of the blank debris.
Get a shop-vac and suck up all of the debris at the end of each shaping or sanding session. This will minimize the amount of dust floating around the room. This becomes very important when you are glassing, because you don’t want airborne dust/foam particles fouling up your glass job.
You also need to consider what you are wearing while shaping and glassing. We suggest using the same ratty old t-shirt/jeans/sneakers over and over again because they will get covered in dust. Another tip is to take off your dusty shaping clothes in your shaping space and leave them there when you are done shaping. If you wear them inside, you will get dust EVERYWHERE. This has led to tensions in many a relationship and should be avoided at all costs.
Do yourself a favor and make sure there is a workbench, shelf, or table very close to your shaping rack where you can keep all of the required tools handy for the task at hand. It can be very frustrating and time consuming to hunt around for tools as you are shaping or glassing. Plan this in advance, before you start. This can be particularly important when you are glassing, as curing resin means time is of the essence.
Pro Shapers typically have shelves right above their side-lights. The shelves serve to direct the light toward the rails of the board being shaped, and also to hold all of the necessary tools within arm’s-length.
Planning Your Time
The amount of time it takes to build a surfboard varies from surfer to surfer and is dependent on your skillset and personality. Some people shape their first board in as little as 3 hours, other may take a full day (5-8 hours) just to carve their first shape if being super careful and taking their time. Your second board will probably be completed in ½ to 1/3rd of the time. The learning curve in shaping surfboards is very steep. By your third or fourth board, you will be able to complete the shaping stage in about 2-4 hours. Pros typically shape a shortboard in under an hour.
Glassing a board requires fewer labor hours, but you will spend more time waiting for your resin to cure than actually glassing the board. With Resin Research pH2000 Epoxy resin, it takes about 2-3 hours for resin to cure enough to flip the board and glass the other side. As a rule, epoxy cures slower in colder temperatures and faster in warmer temperatures. Plan on more than one day to laminate and hot-coat both sides of a board. You can alse use a heated space and crank the temperature up to cure the epoxy even faster.
Resin Research recently released a new Kwick Kick epoxy, which has “flip times” as fast as 30 minutes in warm temps (90F) and under two hours in cooler temps (70F). With Kwick Kick, you can pretty easily laminate and hot-coat both sides of a board in a single day (3 flips). As a beginner, you may want to use regular Resin Research pH2000, especially in warmer temperatures, as it gives you longer working time.
Fin box installs take amateurs about 1/2 hour (for a quad), plus the time it takes for the resin to cure. Leash plug installs only take about 10-15 minutes, plus the time it takes the resin to cure.
Sanding your glass job will take 1-2 hours, depending on how much you do with a power sander and how much you do by hand. It is almost guaranteed that you will “burn-through” the hotcoat and expose glass weave during your first few sand jobs. Exposed weave will suck water, so you need to re-coat those burn- through areas or even add a second entire hot coat if you have multiple burn-throughs.
Adding a gloss coat to your board is pretty quick: only 20 minutes or so to apply each side, plus the time it takes for each side to cure. Final sanding and polishing of your board should take 1-2 hours on your first shot.
So to plan your time for making a surfboard, consider the following:
Day 1: Shaping Blank, installing fin boxes [FCS fusion or Futures] (3-8 total hours)
Day 2: Laminate bottom and top, hot coat top (1-2 hours labor; 9-12 hours cure time)*
Day 3: Hot coat bottom, install fin boxes [ProBox, FCS X-2 plugs, Longboard centerfin box] (1 hours labor; 6-8 hours cure time)*
Day 4: Install leash plug, sand top and bottom (1-2 hours labor; 3-4 hours cure time)*
Day 5: 2nd hot coat or gloss coat, final sanding/polishing (1-2 hours labor; 3-8 hours cure time)*
*Cure times assume regular PH2000 Resin Research in cool (70F) temps. Using RR Kwick Kick Epoxy will reduce your cure time by AT LEAST 50%.